PSNI decision not to investigate Hooded Men torture allegations ruled 'unlawful'

The British Supreme Court has ruled a PSNI decision not to probe allegations 14 ‘Hooded Men’ were tortured in 1971 was unlawful.

By Kevin Mullan
Thursday, 16th December 2021, 10:51 am
Francie McGuigan - one of the Hooded Men.
Francie McGuigan - one of the Hooded Men.

In a landmark judgment delivered on Wednesday the Supreme Court also found that the treatment of the internees in British Army camps - including Ballykelly - 50 years ago would today be considered 'torture.'

"It is likely that the deplorable treatment to which the 'Hooded Men' were subjected at the hands of the security forces would be characterised today, applying the standards of 2021, as torture.

"There is a growing body of high judicial authority in support of this view," the judgement states.

The judgment follows a judicial review challenge taken by the Committee for the Administration of Justice (CAJ) on behalf of Mary McKenna, the daughter of Sean McKenna, one of the Hooded Men, who died in 1975. Mr. McGuigan, one of the Hooded Men, was also an applicant.

They have been seeking a full investigation of allegations contained in a March 31, 1977 memorandum that were first brought to light in the RTÉ documentary, 'The Torture Files', in 2014.

The communiqué from the then Home Secretary Merlyn Rees to the Prime Minister, James Callaghan, referred to the use of the five techniques - spread-eagling, hooding, white noise, food deprivation and sleep deprivation - as 'torture' and, Wednesday's judgment states, 'to their approval by Ministers, and in particular by Lord Carrington, who was then [1971] Secretary of State for Defence'.

The 'Rees Memo' is quoted in full in the judgment and reads: “It is my view (confirmed by Brian Faulkner before his death) that the decision to use methods of torture in Northern Ireland in 1971/72 was taken by Ministers - in particular Lord Carrington, then Secretary of State for Defence.

"If at any time methods of torture are used in Northern Ireland contrary to the view of the Government of the day I would agree that individual policemen or soldiers should be prosecuted or disciplined, but in the particular circumstances of 1971/72, a political decision was taken.”

This week the Supreme Court found the PSNI decision not to further investigate the allegations was irrational and unlawful.

"The decision taken on October 17, 2014 not to investigate the allegation in the Rees Memo was based on a seriously flawed report, was therefore irrational, and falls to be quashed," the judgment states.

CAJ solicitor Gemma McKeown said: “We will now be urging the Chief Constable to fully and impartially investigate whether torture was authorised by senior government ministers.”

Mary McKenna, daughter of Sean McKenna, stated, “It is over 50 years since my father and the other men were tortured and it is time now for the truth to come out through a proper investigation.”

Assistant Chief Constable Jonathan Roberts said: “The Police Service of Northern Ireland acknowledges today’s judgment of the UK Supreme Court and welcomes the clarity it brings to some complex legal issues.

“We recognise the difficult realities that victims, families, friends and broader society continue to deal with as a result of our troubled past.

“We will now take time to study today’s judgment around these complex legacy issues in detail and we will carefully consider its implications for future legacy investigations.

“If we are to build a safe, confident and peaceful society, then we must find a way of dealing with our past and we are committed to playing our part in that process.”